Welcome to the 21st century. You can live together for many years, not married, but have a commitment to each other just as if you were. In that case, other than a couple legalities, nothing really changes when (or if) you get married.
For many, marriage still is a religious sacrament and a legal contract, a society’s bedrock and a romantic ideal. Yet it has changed. As of fairly recently, it embraced same-sex couples and became more universal. Society became more flexible, permitting us to rearrange the family roles in a way that works for us, to travel, to work from home, to live long-distance, to choose not to have children. The institution has evolved much over the years.
In either case, fundamentally, there’s the two of you, ambitious, opinionated, stressed-out adults, trying to live in the same house together, prosper together, maybe raise kids together, and, with any luck, take pleasure in spending the rest of your natural-born lives together.
There’s the emotional challenge that comes with living with someone who’s not you and who therefore has different preferences and styles of communicating. There is compromising on the perfect house, of calculating where to cut costs when money’s tight, of being nice to each other after a terrible fight, of staying up all night worrying if you made the right decision moving to the city for her new job, of letting him discipline the kids, of picking your battles, of letting things slide. There’s the task of maintaining some semblance of a home, which is a whole lot more complicated with two (or more) people in the mix. More generally, there’s the ever-lasting question of how to spend your limited time, energy, money, and libido in ways that keep you smiling and your marriage thriving.
We don’t know. But we can share some wise thoughts on this subject.
Every marriage is different.
“What bystander, even a close relative, knows what truly goes on inside anyone’s marriage? Each marriage is a country unto itself, with its own lingo, customs, unwritten regulations, secret passwords, telepathic powers, and historical landmarks. James Wolcott.
Certain attitudes generally help the relationship thrive.
- “Sometimes two people stay together for the sake of kids – two kids who sat under a full moon and pledged to be forever true. Robert Breault
“My right hand is better at writing, but it never tells my left hand, ‘Left hand, you don’t seem to be good at anything. I have to write for you all the time. My right hand never considers itself superior to my left hand… One day my left hand was holding a nail and my right hand a hammer. Instead of hitting the nail I hit the finger. Right away my right hand put the hammer down and took care of my left hand as if she were taking care of herself. My left hand didn’t get angry at the right hand. She didn’t say, ‘Right hand, you have done my an injustice. I want justice, give me that hammer.’ And my right hand didn’t say, ‘I’m taking care of you, you have to remember that and be grateful’. There’s no you, nor I, no discrimination, they are one. Thich Hnat Hanh.
“Happy marriages are based on deep friendship. Mutual respect for, and enjoyment of, each other’s company. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out. When she has a doctor’s appointment, he remembers to call to see how it went. When they have chicken for dinner, she gives him both drumsticks because she knows he likes them best. This may sound humdrum and unromantic, but it’s anything but. Friendship offers best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse in the inevitable disagreements and irritations of married life. John Gottman.
- “Marriage is a business partnership into which each should be willing to put all his capital constantly and to take out only small dividends until the business is a going concern. Ira Wile and Mary Day Winn.
- “The rules for marriage are the same as for a lifeboat. No sudden moves, don’t crowd the other person, and keep all disastrous thoughts to yourself. Garrison Keillor.
- “Husband and wife… touch and become divine for a moment when they voluntarily and in advance forgive one another for all that they know the other could never be. William Faulkner.
- “Life is not a bed of roses, but love will extract the thorns. Blanche Ebbutt.
Everything is a work in progress.
- “There are no full-grown perfect beings. The greatest privilege of married life is to assist the other to do justice to their better self. Henry Neumann
- “Marriage isn’t about two becoming one, but about learning how to be yourself in the presence of another. Marley Klaus
- “You don’t marry one person, you marry three: the person you think they are, the person they are, and the person they are going to become as a result of being married to you. Richard Needham
- Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. When it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because that’s what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other, and then all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches, we found that we were one tree, not two. Louis de Bernieres
Sense of humor helps.
- “To be happy is to love.To love is to suffer. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting this down.” Woody Allen, Love and death.
People who couldn’t marry say it best.
- “If any of those three million [slaves in America] find for themselves companions, and prove themselves honest and virtuous persons to each other – they live in constant apprehension of being torn asunder by the merciless man-stealers that claim them as their property.” Abolitionist Frederick Douglass on the prohibition against slave marriages, 1846.
- “You do know, I’m sure, what you’re up against. There’ll be a hundred million people right here in this country who will be offended and appalled at the two of you, and the two of you will just have to ride it out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You can try to ignore these people, or you can feel sorry for them and their prejudices and bigotry and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say, ‘Screw all those people!’… You’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love, and I think that now, no matter what some bastard could say against you getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if – knowing what you two are, knowing what you two have, and knowing what you two feel – you didn’t get married.” From a 1967 film Guess who’s coming to dinner, about a White American woman becoming engaged to an African American man.
- “Imagine life without even a possibility of marriage. Imagine being in love and knowing that marrying the person is out of the question. Imagine that in the law’s eyes you and your soulmate will never be more than acquaintances… Few heterosexuals can imagine living in this upside-down world, where love separates you from marriage instead of connecting you with it… Marriage, remember, is not just a contract between two people. It is a contract that two people make, as a couple, with their community. The partners agree to take care of each other so the community doesn’t have to. Marriage is our first line of defence against financial, medical and emotional meltdown. It provides domesticity and safe harbor for sex. It stabilizes communities by formalizing responsibilities and creating kin networks… America needs more marriages, not fewer”. Jonathan Rauch on the importance of marriage for gay community, 2008
These are loaded topics. What does marriage mean to you? What does being a husband or a wife mean to you? What does building a family mean to you? Feel free to share your thoughts.